BRIGSBY BEAR: A Poignant Peer Into The Power Of Imagination & Pursuing Passion
[Published at Film Inquiry] Brigsby Bear premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year as part of a recent trend of scooping up extra Saturday Night Live (SNL) talent. Last year, it was SNL writer, Chris Kelly’s Other People that was the unexpected hit. This year, Brigsby Bear took the festival by storm led by star Kyle Mooney and SNL writer and director, Dave McCary, in his feature length directorial debut. That storm is hitting theaters next month. It is a refreshing entry in the middle of a summer blockbuster season predominantly characterized by franchise fatigue, unoriginality, and self-destructive, ultra-budget studio financial models getting the way of good storytelling.
Much of the marketing around the film has been keen on keeping Brigsby Bear shrouded in mystery until its release. Upon viewing the film, the viewer will immediately understand why. This film is best watching without knowing anything about the plot that hasn’t already been said in the official festival circuit premise: “Brigsby Bear Adventures is a children’s TV show produced for an audience of one: James. When the show abruptly ends, James’s life changes forever, and he sets out to finish the story himself.” Brigsby Bear is an incredibly odd film, as it comes from the imaginative mind of co-writer and star, Mooney. But make no mistake, this is not a negative observation.
Mooney and McCary’s creative chemistry goes back to their college days. Those who know his early work, Good Neighbor, a series of offbeat humor YouTube sketch comedy videos made by fellow classmates Beck Bennett (who has a role in Brigsby Bear) and McCary while he was at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts in 2007, will recognize some of Mooney’s goofiness and infectious aloofness in Brigsby Bear.
However, we see an entirely new side to Mooney, who plays an adult who, due to a unique set of circumstances, has kept a complete, unabashed, childlike innocence. In the process, Mooney, along with co-writer Kevin Costello, create a wonderful ode to film preservation and the art of film.
Everybody knew his silver screen chance to shine would come sooner or later. Aside from small roles in shows like Hello Ladies and recent films such as Zoolander 2, Mooney hasn’t found a vehicle yet to showcase his originality as a performer, comedian, writer, and actor. Mooney made his own luck with Brigsby Bear, which also received positive reception on an international stage at Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.
Mooney as James is a sight for sore eyes, a refreshing burst of onscreen energy. His ability to act convincingly as a kid in a man’s body, struggling to let go of his childhood hero, innocence, and introverted ways as James goes on his odyssey to make a film of Brigsby Bear Adventures is nearly as noteworthy as Johnny Depp’s portrayal of the titular character in Edward Scissorhands.
Mooney can convey experiencing emotions, sensations, feelings, pleasures, and disappointments for the first time with ease. He is more restrained than some of his SNL skits and Good Neighbor episodes. He provides a nuance we haven’t yet seen both on and offscreen, and, for that, audiences can expect a lot more from him, as well as McCary, in the future.
The Importance Of Film
I couldn’t possibly sum up the importance of film without turning this Brigsby Bear review into a novel. I will say, however, that Brigsby Bear manages to do so in such an absurdist yet touching way. The absurdist part, well that aspect of the film you’ll have to view in theaters when it comes out to enjoy.
However, it is most emotional in the moments when James is pursuing his goal of making a feature length film. He is undeterred by virtually everyone’s advice to stop trying to finish the TV show’s story and move on. In his mind, making a movie is easy, all it takes is for some people to come together under a unified love for something, and the rest will happen.
The moments of bonding among the characters during James’s filmmaking process are blissfully powerful. Beneath the story, there is a subtext of pursuing one’s passion. We’ve all heard it before, all too often, in fact: person grows older, begins to become bitter that they never pursued what they wanted.
In James’s world, he wanted to be a filmmaker, and simply did. The negativity surrounding such a daunting task with a very low success rate avoids him somehow. Mooney’s message is clear, pursue your dreams. Obstacles are expected, endure and measure your success by your ability to overcome those obstacles and finish the race.
James is a child of the past, in a sense. Before it was cancelled, he watched every episode of Brigsby Bear Adventure on VHS. Cleverly, Mooney uses the plot element that James’s favorite show was made just for him as a metaphor for the importance of film preservationism. James holds onto his Brigsby Bear tapes as if they’re his children, as do many creative artists with their work.
Still Have No Idea What Brigsby Bear Is About? Good.
McCary’s direction is superb, capturing screenwriters, Mooney and Costello’s intended tone perfectly. His creation of Brigsby Bear Adventures’ cheesiness and PBS-like production value adds an authenticity within the film’s larger world. This is a comedy, undoubtedly, but there are dramatic elements to it that emerge quite suddenly, and beneath the surface, there is a sinisterness oozing to sneak in. Originally, Mooney intended the film’s tone to be much darker. However, as the screenwriting process unfolded, it became clear that Brigsby Bear’s natural progression was to maintain its childlike sense of wonder, similarly to our unlikely hero, James.
Mooney’s Brigsby Bear isn’t only for the dreamers, it’s for anyone who’s ever stalled at pursuing a something dear to them for fear of failing. It’s for those that don’t forget that we are all a little bit like James. Brigsby Bear will surprise on several levels, including Mooney’s strong writing and acting display, the film’s intangible, transcendent tone, sheer originality, and its ability to tug at the heartstrings of audiences around the world. The emotional payoff is cathartic, capping off a wholly original, meta-screwball of a film with important and endearing subtexts.
Are you excited for Brigsby Bear? Do you enjoy Mooney and McCary’s particular brand of humor?
Brigsby Bear opens in select US theaters on July 28 and gets a wider release on August 4, 2017, and an Australian release date of September 21, 2017.